Mission 1 – Natural Belmont Born Lioness
“Shoot Katy…. let them have the Screamer!” shouted an excitable Ted, the team manager from the touchline. Katy wanted to shoot but was almost put off by the shout of “shoot” by Ted, who was very annoying at times, mainly because he also happened to be her dad.
Katy was waiting just a second until the ball bobbled up. As soon as it did, her left foot connected with the ball. Moments later, all that could be heard was the whoosh of the ball hitting the net as it almost ripped out the ground pegs holding it in place. The helpless goalie and her team were the latest victims of the “Screamer.”
You see, that was Katy Cupsworth’s strength. She knew even at a young age, that she had a natural talent for football. She had practised with a ball on her own since she was six years old and had instantly taken to the sport. Maybe because there were no leagues around at that time for girls, she had become frustrated and so had focused on proving that girls were just as good as boys, and maybe even better.
She would often beat boys at ‘keepie uppie’ ball juggling and teased them relentlessly as they struggled to get the ball off her when she was doing her fast, mazy dribbles. This frustration though turned out to be a good thing, as she developed the Screamer shot – her secret weapon that no boy could ever match! Her cousin Chris ‘Cuppa’ Cupsworth had found this out on more than one occasion. Chris was often in the firing line as a reluctant goalkeeper in the back garden, and on occasion, collected various injuries trying to stop her ferocious Screamer.
“That’s my girl” screamed Ted. He then started to mumble to himself about what a player Katy was and then randomly shouted out “she’s the next Marta you know” to anyone who was listening. You could say Ted was very proud of his footballing daughter. He was so proud, he even made her Captain.
“Ted now don’t go getting too excited and putting pressure on Katy. She’s still only ten and we haven’t won the match yet and there’s still ten minutes to go” warned Felicity, his anxious ex-wife.
The minutes ticked by slowly, and with the score at 1-0 to Belmont Avenue, Katy picked up the ball in midfield, did a ‘give and go’ with Ranvir, before dribbling it to the corner flag to waste time. Her opponents tried to get the ball off her, but her combination of dribbles and ball juggling made that task almost impossible. The frustration of her opponents was ended when a loud whistle shrilled. The referee had blown his whistle for full time.
“Well done Belmont. Another victory. We will have this league wrapped up by Christmas” proudly exclaimed Ted.
Felicity also liked to win, but she also liked fair play and had quietly instilled in all the players the value of sportsmanship before and after matches. As the Belmont players shook hands with their vanquished opponents, Ted and Felicity smiled at each other. They made an impressive football management team when they weren’t arguing about what was best for Katy.
Ted wore many management hats. Apart from manager, he was also club secretary organising fixtures with the league committee, head groundsman responsible for cutting the grass, and operations manager, which meant he put up the nets and corner flags on match days!
Felicity was the mother hen, looking after the needs of the young girls. These needs could be first aid, preparing half time refreshments, post-match buffets and even putting an arm around anyone who needed a hug and a few kind words of support.
This impressive management team on match days though, had gone through some difficult times that had sadly led to the break-up of their marriage. Strangely, it all started when Katy took an interest in football, and then started to show a natural ability for it.
Ted recognised this natural ability and was keen to teach her new skills almost every day in the back garden after school. If that wasn’t enough, he took her to watch live football matches to watch the best players, and when they couldn’t do that, they watched it live on TV. Ted pushed her into the footballing spotlight at every opportunity as he was convinced she would make a professional in the Women’s Professional Football League (WPFL). Football was taking over Katy’s life, which Katy quite liked, but it had affected her progress in school.
Felicity though, preferred a more measured and protected development of Katy’s talent so she could develop in her own time without added pressure and expectation. Whether she would become a professional footballer or not, Felicity just wanted her to be happy and always try her best at whatever she did in life.
They used to argue about who was doing the washing up and drying, whilst at other times it would be about Ted’s snoring which kept Felicity awake at nights. But most of all, they argued about Katy. This is what led to their break up and now they lived apart with Katy staying at Felicity’s during the week, and at Ted’s every weekend.
Ted and Felicity didn’t know it, but Katy had nicknames for both of them. Their rivalry sometimes spilled over onto match days and had prompted Katy to call them United and City. United was Ted’s name as it included the name Ted at the end, and City was the same for Felicity. It was like having a Manchester derby every week!
However, for all their disagreements in the past, both Ted and Felicity were now trying to be nicer to each other for the sake of Katy, and Katy liked this, as she liked being the centre of attention.
As a result of the break up though, Katy didn’t have as much time to see her Grandma Wyn. Katy had always been very close to her and liked the way she was always calm and supportive, but never in a way that threatened her mum Felicity.
As a child Wyn was known as Winifred and was educated at Winckley Square Convent where she showed impressive academic ability. Following school, she worked in the local Courtaulds factory which made fabrics and chemicals. As a company secretary, she would be responsible for typing various letters and general office administration for her bosses and had once worked in London for three months.
But this career path was to end when she met Grandad Bob, and together they embarked on creating a loving family of four children, which many years later, yielded four grand-children. Sadly, tragedy was to strike in the years to come as their grand-daughter Danni, passed away when she was only 21.
In their prime, both Wyn and Bob were pioneers in healthy living and were always trying out new ways to keep healthy, either in body or in mind. They had once owned and operated a health gymnasium, The Apollo. Grandad Bob would take the weight and fitness classes, while Grandma Wyn delivered Yoga and Buddhist meditation classes. Wyn had a yearning to travel and visited many places all over the world, sometimes with Bob, and then on her own after Grandad Bob died. She called these trips her learning journeys as she sought to improve her understanding of life, and her favourite place of learning was Tibet in the Far East.
Above all, Wyn would help anyone who needed it, family, friends or complete strangers – that was who she was and why Katy loved her so much.
As the season unfolded, Belmont Avenue were seemingly unstoppable. In October, they were top of the league by six points and there was a real buzz and expectation about what this team could achieve. Could they do the treble this season by winning the League, Cup and the new Invitational Trophy?
The Invitational Trophy, or IT as it had become known, was a weekend tournament played just after Christmas between four teams who came from Scotland, Holland, Belgium and England. To qualify as one of the four teams, your team had to not only demonstrate many aspects of fair play but must not have had any red cards in the season up until Christmas.
Whichever country won the IT could host it the following year. This year the tournament was to be held in Delft, Holland. The IT was something that both players and parents wanted to win as it would be a nice trip during the holiday period.
Katy was feeling good about her football and everything was going so well in her life, except for one small thing…. school! Katy didn’t like it. It wasn’t that she hated it, far from it. It was just that if she couldn’t be the best, she would quickly lose interest, especially when challenged. This was her fear of failure.
Initially she would try her best, but if others seemed to be doing better than her, she could become argumentative, even hot tempered and would often just give up. She felt she wasn’t naturally clever so never really tried too much. With football it was different – she was the best and everything came to her naturally. Her passion for being the best kept driving her on to keep practising, trying new moves on the pitch and believing that one day she would be a professional footballer.
“Hey Chris, do you find school boring?” asked Katy as she played footy with her cousin.
“Not really Katy. At first, I struggled, as I didn’t believe I was as good as everyone else. But after my amazing journey around the world I found some belief in myself, and I started to give things a go at school.”
“Your amazing journey?” asked Katy.
“Yes, I went to London first, then Moscow, then Toronto, then Machu Picchu, then Islamabad. I met some weird people such as Mrs Hardcastle, Mr Just Do it, Pete Positivity and even came across a guy called Willie Fail who tried to make me doubt myself. At the end everyone called me Cuppa as I developed a real belief in myself. I even met Grandad Bob again, but he was called Alf!
“You and your imagination Chris” sighed Katy thinking her cousin was just a day dreamer. However, a small part of her had noticed a positive change in Chris recently, and he was doing better at school, but that might have been him just growing up?
“Believe it or not Katy, but I am different, better now. You never know, you might even have your own amazing journey one day?” said Chris smiling to himself, as if he knew something Katy didn’t.
“Anyway, it’s getting late and I better be off Katy. It’s school tomorrow and I love it!” exclaimed Chris as he ran down the road back home.
Katy juggled her ball back home and went straight to bed, not giving Chris’s ‘amazing journey’ a second thought – all she could think about was Belmont Avenue’s next match on Saturday. The first-round cup match against Frenchwood Park.
Saturday came around quickly and it was quite windy as Ted struggled to put up the nets. Even the corner flags were swaying in the breeze. At one point, Ted and Felicity wondered if the match would go ahead. But as kick off approached, the wind softened, and the sun came out making it possible for the important cup match to go ahead.
Frenchwood Park were well known in girl’s football. The team itself was not the most skilful, but they had a reputation for being aggressive, with a win at all costs approach. In their captain, Meanie Marcie McGhee, they possessed the biggest, and scariest player ever to play girls football. She was nearly 6ft tall, hands and feet as big as a man’s and a tackle that could take out both a player and a spectator at the same time. Her nickname was M3 and that was also the name for the local accident and emergency hospital ward! For M3, the rules were meant to be broken, win or lose, and that mentality went for anyone who dared to stand in her way.
Frenchwood Park had a large following of supporters who loved it when they beat the opposition, “beat” meaning the physical side of things. Many didn’t mind if they lost, just as long as they hurt the opposition!
Most of the Belmont players were more than a little nervous – all except Katy Cupsworth. She loved a football challenge as it was a chance to show what she could do on the pitch and she believed in herself and her abilities. M3 or their supporters weren’t going to scare her.
Within two minutes of kick off, Meanie Marcie McGhee had elbowed Roly Paula the Belmont keeper and had also ‘accidently’ run into the ref who subsequently tumbled over temporarily losing his whistle in the mud. It was her way of saying she was in charge.
“Throw it to Katy” shouted Ted as Roly Paula held the ball. Roly was almost as big as M3 but was a much nicer player. She wasn’t the best keeper in the league, and didn’t even look like a keeper, but she had great self-belief and never dwelled on mistakes. She just always valued herself, in terms of her appearance and abilities, did her best and kept learning from her mistakes.
Roly Paula threw the ball out to Tick Tock Tracey, the tiny Belmont winger. Tick Tock wasn’t the fastest or most skilful player on the pitch, but she always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, hence her adopted nickname. Tick Tock then played it to Katy on the wing. Quickly, Katy pushed it through the legs of the wing back and raced beyond her towards Frenchwood’s goal. Along the touchline, she could hear the chants of the Frenchwood supporters…“Meanie Marcie McGhee…kill, kill, kill.”
The crowd knew that waiting for Katy was M3.
Then a lone voice from the crowd called out, “She’s pathetic, she only plays because her dad’s the manager!” The rest of the crowd picked up on this and started calling out “Daddy’s girl, daddy’s girl.”
M3 joined in by goading her “come to mummy…. you’re not good enough…. you’re in with the big girls now” as she stared menacingly at Katy.
The wind started to blow again as Katy pushed the ball up to M3 and tried to tease her with her step overs. But then she noticed a strange look in the eyes of M3. It was as if M3 wasn’t even interested in the ball, she just had eyes for Katy. For the first time in her footballing life, Katy felt nervous – the crowd and M3 had got into her head.
Katy tried to flick the ball up and over the head of M3. But her body just froze and she mis-kicked the ball out of play. To add injury to insult, Katy slipped and M3 used the opportunity to ‘accidentally’ sit on Katy’s head with a big thud.
Katy ended up dazed in a heap on the muddy pitch. M3 and the Frenchwood supporters started to laugh louder and louder.
The wind was now gusting more strongly, and Katy was wondering why nobody was looking after her, or why her team mates had not consoled her. It even crossed her mind why M3 hadn’t stepped on her with her size 10 boots. It was if the whole game was at a standstill, as if time itself had stopped. All that could be heard was the whistle of the wind and then a weird voice interrupted her thoughts.
“Katy darling, isn’t it a little muddy to be sitting down?” asked a voice.
Katy couldn’t see who was talking to her, but didn’t care as she answered defiantly “Who cares!”
“I care Katy, and so do your team mates, and deep down, I suspect you care” spoke the softly sounding voice.